Dealing With The Horrors Of PDFs By Binding Your Own Books

Looking at a few PDFs of data sheets, journal articles, or even complete books can be a pain. Not only do you have to deal with the torment of a PDF reader (we’re looking at you, Adobe), but a purely electronic document misses the beautiful tactile interface available in dead tree format. [samimy] put together an amazingly professional video showing us how to turn our convenient yet unwieldy PDFs into paperback books, perfect for a very accessible off-line reference.

[samimy]’s build is basically a few pieces of wood and C clamps designed to compress the printed PDF together. After drilling a few holes along the spine, he stitches the pages together with very strong thread and applies a little glue to the spine. After removing the pages from the press, [samimy] applied a piece of tape to the spine and had a very nice looking paperback book.

While [samimy] is using his binding jig for data sheets, we see no reason why a more prodigious tome couldn’t be created with his rig. A few pages of marbled paper and a leather cover would result in a beautiful and functional work of art that will be around long after you’re gone.

66 thoughts on “Dealing With The Horrors Of PDFs By Binding Your Own Books

    1. Sumatra may be lighter but it only does about 90% of what Acrobat can do. More then once, I had to open pdf in acrobat because they didn’t show up properly in sumatra or other readers. A colleague of mine was typesetting his master’s thesis in LaTeX and figure were not showing properly in sumatra even though they were perfectly fine when printed or when looked with acrobat.

      If you want to find bloatware just look what became of MS Office since 1997…

      1. Have you tried the recent versions? There has been some significant progress. (Also, you only see the yellow background if you have no document opened, which is almost never.) Also, even though it may not have some of Adobe’s more advanced capabilities, it does about everything I regularly need except: annotations and more advanced printing options.

        Also, if there’s a problem you _can_ quickly open the current file in another PDF reader if you have multiple ones installed on your system. It’s just two clicks away.
        Plus, it can also open ePub, MOBI, CHM, XPS, DjVu, CBZ, CBR etc.

    1. Seconding this thought. I was a little surprised when he showed the book as single-sided.

      // Picked up a LaserJet 8150N with a duplexer for $50. Perfect for printing books, PCBs for toner transfer, and has *very* cheap toner replacement costs.

  1. What I need is a software package to strip out useless crap from PDF files. For some reason writers think they need background images on the pages, All that does is make non PC or ipad reader to completely barf on them.

    I need an app that will go through the PDF and strip out ALL background images.

    1. I haven’t hit the background issue in OEM docs, so I don’t know if this will help.
      in my (oldish) version of Foxit reader
      there’s a Preferences option to use system colors .
      Maybe that will help with the vanity backgrounds …?
      ( like it does in FireFox )

  2. I use yet another PDF reader (at home) so I’m not sure what its name is at the moment. And “if” you want the paperback to be around long after you are gone, use an acid free paper, and maybe an ink jet (or ink sheet?) printer as toner has a nasty habit of sticking to the page opposite of it over time. Just dig out a few of the toner printed pages you made several years ago and put away somewhere and see.

  3. I used to have a PDF reader that was only a few MB big, fast, lightweight, portable, not integrated with everything. I think it was made by a company called Adobe called acroread.exe. It used to be included with everything because it was so small and did what you needed it to do (display the content of a file in a pretty way)

    Of course this was about 20 years ago. I’m sure by now they’ve tuned it to be much smaller and faster while still retaining the vital features without having so much cruft that you can hardly see your document for buttons and adverts for things you don’t want & will never need.

    (For those of you in America, this was what the rest of the world calls sarcasm)

  4. Another method that is quite easy, but not quite as high quality is to use PVA glue. Print your book double sided, 4 pages to a sheet of A4 (landscape). Use a program to print in signatures of 1 a4 page (so pages 1 and 4 are on one side, 2 and 3 are on the other). Fold, stack and press.
    Spread glue on the pressed spine, gently fanning in both directions to ensure coverage on the spine end.
    wait for it to dry, then score a ‘legal’ size piece of thin card to the width of the spine. (Legal is an old paper size, same width of A4 but longer) Glue this to the dry spine.
    The PVA is flexible enough to allow you to open your book like a professional paperback.
    I’ve printed a few large pdf’s like this (mainly sutras) and it works a treat.

    However, as a method its not as well perfected and good looking as this one!

    1. For those who don’t know, PVA glue is sold in the US as “white glue”, the stuff you get for kids in school. Elmer’s is probably the best known around my hometown. Carpenter’s yellow glue is the same thing, but yellow instead of white.

  5. I’ve printed out pdfs in actual sets of signatures of about 6 to 8 sheets of paper (I had to select the sets of pages for each signature manually but I bet theres an automated way), folded them in half, then bound them with thread and finised it off with PVA glue and a strip of paper over the spine. Came out looking rather nice.

    I did this mainly because the process was more entertaining then actually studying :D

  6. I like book binding a lot, and made leather cover for my nephew’s all worn book but… sincerly this is just craftmenship to me. I really don’t understand why this is featured on HaD… Only because the guy PRINTED a datasheet ?

    The linked tutorial is a very good one, but I just feel it’s out of topic here… or HaD has changed ?

    1. I’ve done a lot of very diverse projects, and one of them was bookbinding. Admittedly, I was only up to the level of this build – i.e. printing stuff off on a laser printer and making a paperback – but I can appreciate a multi-volume hand-bound book with tooled leather. They’re awesome works of craftsmanship and deserve a post (if we ever get one on the tip line, preferably something containing 6502 assembly).

      And with school starting up in late August… I’ll just leave it at that.

    2. I think diversity is the key here. While it’s fine and dandy to read about the 5000th Arduino project, it’s always a good idea to broaden your knowledge. For years I racked my head on an annoying problem and found the solution in home construction where the problem also existed and the solution is common knowledge. I have another project and found a suitable method of construction from hobby aircraft.

      I like that HaD is broadening the scope. I’m finding solutions in places I wouldn’t have thought to look in. As long as HaD doesn’t turn into another ehow, it should be all good.

    1. or use find -iname “*.pdf” | while read line; do nn=`echo “${line}” | sed ‘s/\.[pP][dD][fF]/.tif/g’; convert -density 300 -monochrome “${line}” “${nn}”; tesseract “${nn}” “${nn}.txt”; done; then read the resulting text with cat/less :D

  7. I used to hate on-line documentation, and have printed out countless thousands of pages of manuals over the years. Just about all of them have gone off to the recycler.

    That all changed when I switched to OS/X. Although it is not a dedicated PDF viewer, Apple’s “Preview” was just worlds better than anything else out there, and suddenly reading on-line documentation was not only not painful, but I actually started preferring it to printed documentation.

    A few months ago I was working under WinXP (embedded software development project) and wanted to reference a PDF document on my target box. I downloaded over a half dozen of the popular PDF readers for Windows and I was amazed at just how hard each and every one of them sucked.

    It is really no wonder that so many people still want to print out documentation. The solution is not finding a good way to bind the pages. The *proper* solution is to write a sane PDF reader for Windows. (Oh, wait, this *is* _Hack_ a day…. ;-)

  8. Question, is the paper acid free, or is it gonna yellow and disintegrate before you could pass your hand bound book down to your grandkids? What about the ink/toner? Will it remain indelible and legible for 20 years, or will it degrade and fade to illegibility?

    1. To be fair, if what is being printed is documentation for things like software or electronics hardware then the info will long have been obsolete and / or irrelevant by the time the paper and ink go. You are right, home printers are not archival grade machines but this is not archival grade material.

  9. For data sheets and the usual stuff you have to deal with when it comes to anything tech related, this strikes me as a bullshit idea. I, in fact, invested into an ADF scanner that can upload to FTP to go the opposite way.

    For things that do not gain much from being searchable and being synced between devices it is a nice idea, though. There’s a lot of literature that’s out of the copyright period (and a lot that isn’t) that you can get as a PDF and would maybe like to just read on paper.

    I always chose a way simpler approach for that kind of stuff. Print it double sided, two pages on one. Cut the pages in half, so you get single book pages. Punch holes with ordinary office equipment, but make it 4, not 2. Then use some thick copper wire, not the stranded kind, and bend it through the holes as a binding. Make the ends be in the holes, because they’re pointy. To finish it off, print the title on a big adhesive sticker and glue it over the “binding” and the back. Now you can even see what it is in your bookshelf.
    If you don’t need that, just use some strong tape to cover the back and your wiring.

    It’s by far not as tasteful, but it can be done, fast, cheap and holds up to a lot of abuse.

    Also, if want paper for anything else besides the tactile feel, get a Tablet PC :p

  10. Pdf vs Books vs Google.

    I have a smallish old school library – pushing 1500 books, and down to <500 periodicals from a much larger collection. At least I think those are reasonable guesses… but it might be twice that, or maybe thrice. Really, I'm afraid to count.

    I wouldn't keep so many, except that every time I visit a library, they have thinned down their collections again. My nearest library has no depth to their collection whatsoever – apparently, if a book isn't checked out 2 or 3 times in a 90 day period, they cull it from the herd.

    This is the library equivalent of what happened to broadcast television – when you play only to the widest audiences, you get the literary equivalent of "dancing with the stars" programming. There is no room for Von Braun, Lewis, or any of a zillion visionary talents.

    If a book is stolen by a patron, (very common with young and poor patrons) it never comes back… even if they pay for the loss.

    If you donate a book, no matter how highly rated or esteemed it may be, it will be sold at auction and never placed upon the shelves. I donated a dozen current[!] CS classics, purchased new, only to discover that they were resold for ~$30 a few weeks later.

    The proceeds will usually be used to buy more copies of various teen-angst vampire/zombie/werewolf love triangles only slightly better written than fan-fiction.

    Still, if I could sink $3k into hardware and scan it all, I'd do it.

    1. No need for 3k.
      If you’re willing to live with destruction, reasonable priced ADF scanners can be had for some hundred. Look for All in Ones with the scanner also working over the Network. E.g. Brother has some nice models that speak Email and/or FTP.
      Vice, saw off back, ready to go.

      Otherwise a tripod and a mid class DSLR can be had for way less than 1k.

    2. My missus is on the local Library board and I’ve voiced the same complaints to her that you spelled out here. The culling, It’s not the board’s doing but seems to be some mandate related to received taxes, basically cull or lose the funding, but I didn’t get a clear answer even from her.
      Would you believe that not a single public library in the Chicagoland area has a copy of Knuth, but yet wastes money on this years up to date For Dummies books on the most useless topics. The Engineering section was decimated, and by decimated I mean only one tenth was left on shelves. They even got rid of Machinery’s Handbook, a much newer version than I used to use at work, even a 1920’s edition is useful, but most of the information does not change from version to version, just like a Rubber book for Chemists and Physicists

  11. largest book I’ve printed was 1500(divide by 2 for amount of sheets)… took ghetto binding approach though; 3 hole punch all pages, then ran some thread through the holes in a 8 shape, and then put packaging tape on the spine(no additional glue/ect)… I was the only one who planned to read them:P…. I’ve since gotten an e-reader, its in my opinion an all around better approach:P…

    on the e-reader I took a sorta opposite approach; took a book and ripped out the pages(sorry The Great Gatsby fans) and used the cover as a cover for my e-reader:)

  12. I printed out two old SF novels on US legal size paper, four pages to a sheet, double sided.

    I then cut and bound them with a heavy duty stapler.

    Why? So I could read them in bed at night instead of sitting in front of my computer.

    Then I got a Handspring Visor and used it for reading in bed. Followed that with a Palm Tungsten E2, then a Palm LifeDrive, now a Samsung Epic 4G.

  13. every time i *_MUST_* access a PDF file, i try in vain, to download the file as a whole file before even thinking of loading it. never try adobe in my browser…

    if i do this, it doesnt crash :)
    if i cant do this. it cant be _THAT_ important

    just like youtube, PDF’s can always(edit: usually) be downloaded as a file, even when the site trys to force the adobe-in-browser on you.

  14. If what you have to print is under a hundred pages or so just get a 3 hole punch and a tab binder, over 100 and use a ring binder, not pretty but it works. (And cheap as hell!)

  15. Wow… so many differing opinions and so many of them miss the mark.

    C’mon guys (and gals and er… whatevers), this is hardly a pdf vs paper vs whatever argument. It’s about having the option to go any way that you choose.

    Yeah, pdf’s are nice (the readers suck though), I can pack millions (billions?) of pages of text into the space of a dime store novel. Paper is awesome, especially if I have a page printed or copied from a book and I don’t have to worry about ruining an expensive piece of equipment or running of power right in the middle of a manual.

    So… feel free to bicker and argue and ahem… discuss the merits of either format. I’ll be enjoying my pdf’s AND paper texts.

  16. Speaking of pdf, google, and paper the only thing that worries me about the whole printed word vs electronics is that printed books can be read without electricity the proper reader proprietary format or the internet nor can the info be easily changed (hacked?) or tracked.

    With the current political climate and the assult on the internet from both legal and illegal sides along with the current trend of printing words becoming economically unfeasable we really can’t make sure the information we have today will be around (Or correct and accessable) in 100 or even 50 years from now.

    Something to think about.

    1. Privacy is dead.

      You can remove yourself from society (the grid) and maintain it until you get snared by random new technology, or shield yourself with power and money (to some extent), but basically, once structured query language was developed, the game was over.

      I can combine your cell and phone records, your email and internet activity, and your credit history into about 8 Mbytes of data – and can compress that into just under 1 Mbyte of data, including indexes for everything from where you’ve lived to who you chatted with for 10 minutes at a bar (thanks to your cell phone).

      That record can be indexed – and cross-referenced to the records of everyone you come in contact with, physically or electronically. And since the original source data remains available for multiple decades, we can always enhance it.

      And in fact, the relationship data is generally split apart from the source data, leaving us with a little under 5k per person – so ask yourself, how many people fit into a Terabyte database? Do the math – 200k+ per TB, and so relationship data for every person in North America could fit in a single 42U rack using last year’s technology.

      And that’s just what I could do, using the free and simple tools available to hobbyists. Now imagine what folks who wanted to get something done could do, especially if they were properly funded.

      I wouldn’t worry about folks reading the logs of your online persona, or knowing EXACTLY where you go each day of your life. Waaaaaaay too late to get that cow back into the barn, by a decade or so. It’s done, and there’s nothing to see anymore.

      Personally, I worry more about societal evolution than loss of privacy. And the general decline of FOX programming – did you know that the animated series “the simpsons” is considered by FOX to be too intellectual to maintain market share?

      Worry about that!

  17. the fact about tracking wad just an aside from what i see as the real problem though i wonder why you strictly jumped on the privacy aspect..

    Im more concerned about the accessibility and accuracy aspect.
    if all our printed word were on the internet today and the books were all gone we could be back in the dark ages within 3 to 10 generations in terms of freely available information

    1. no, plenty of information available to keep us at 20th century civilization, barring the oft-touted zombie apocalypse, aka we (or our representatives) poison everything accidentally on purpose in pursuit of whatever it s they wanted at the time.

      You can’t unwind a civilization overnight, and the dark ages had more to do with everyone watching dance with the stars and economic collapse than a loss of books/scrolls/papyri.

      Those Silly Romans! Wasting their empire by spending every penny they had and then some to maintain those gigantic armies in bases all over the world battling savages who didn’t support roman trading and loyalty policies that made a handful of people very, very rich. They basically chose partisanship and propaganda over science and tolerance, and ended being nothing more than completely-broke experts on P/R with excellent weapons until everybody just kinda got bored and wandered off.

      In other words, the dark ages never really happened. Basically, the loss of knowledge we ascribe was a conscious choice, because once you blow everything on ridiculous salaries, fabulous villas, bribes to the senate and vacation jaunts to resorts in sunny southern france, it becomes obvious that ignorant people cost less to keep busy than educated folks, and make less noise.

      So if you can jettison all the expensive infrastructure, and persuade them that going to the circus is better than arguing a bunch of tosh about progress and responsibility, you’re miles ahead.

      Really, the dark ages was nothing more than the republic running out of credit and credibility. Hardly a big deal, and we always manage to scrape up a king somewhere and start the whole shebang rolling again. World without End, as the catholics say.

  18. When I was a kid, and living out in the middle of nowhere, I would just take two strips of wood, and a 3 screws, and just bind it all together that way. Made for a perfectly usable “booK”. If you wanted to get fancy you could even make a cover using some decorative hinges :P I didnt have to punch holes, sew, glue, or buy a binder.

    A quick search later, an example:

    These days, I just use a tablet computer with a touch screen.

    1. Chicago Screw Posts are screws meant for just such a job. They have fairly thin heads oversized in diameter so they won’t pull through. Sidwell tax maps came bound that way, updates would be loose sheets you had to put in the proper book and page.
      There even used to be security headed screws available to keep unauthorized personnel from removing (or changing) pages.

  19. I like the idea of quality binding, but wish he had gone into formatting pages for printing.

    To clarify, to maximize space, pages to be printed need formatting on the computer before printing out to compensate for the portion of the pages lost due to binding (around 1 cm or 0.5 inches minimum).

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